I received a question from an app user the other day:

trigger food question: “Tomorrow is macaroni casserole night. Serious question: How do I not eat the entire casserole dish?”

It might sound like a silly question with an obvious answer for some of you that have higher willpower than I do, but the answer of “Just don’t eat more” is usually not helpful. 

For many of us, we have what I call “trigger foods.” Refined carbs are famous for being trigger foods that can cause people to overeat, and overeat like crazy.

I can eat a whole bag of chips. Pasta is another one of my trigger foods. Ice cream is another famous one.

I remember when I was 250 pounds, I regularly went to a restaurant and had their Pasta Tuesday special, where all their pastas were at a discounted price. Being a person who loves deals, I always picked the largest pasta dish. I ate the entire dish. Looking at the stats now, that dish was 1730 calories. If you include the sodas and appetizers and dessert, that’s basically an entire day’s worth of calories in a single meal. No wonder I was obese.

I still go to that restaurant. Yet by implementing many of the tips below, I am now able to ensure that my restaurant visit won’t cause me excess weight gain.

So, what can a person do to avoid overeating trigger foods? My app user is off to a good start – she is aware of the fact that she is at risk of doing this. Understanding what trigger foods you have is the first step.

I gave her a few extra recommendations:

Plan Ahead

If you ever see that you’re going to eat a trigger meal at some point in the future, eat less during the meals beforehand. If I’m going to have pasta in the evening, I’ll have a really light lunch, and even skip breakfast if it’s going to be a really good meal. Now that I have improved my self-control over what I eat due to repairing my feedback loop, I actually now extend this to holidays and vacations. I’ll make sure I eat a little bit less before the event, such that I can eat more during times of celebration.

The fact is food is part of joyous events and social gatherings. Sometimes eating the trigger foods are totally worth it, because food can and should make us really happy! I’d trade eating a delicious pasta dish for the same caloric equivalent of office workplace dry sandwiches any day. The problem is when we don’t make the trade and eat both, creating a caloric surplus on a regular basis.

Change Your Environment

The tip which my app user ended up implementing was actually quite simple. I asked her if she could make her meal in a smaller casserole dish and she said that would be a great idea. You can’t overeat if there is nothing to overeat!

I love potato chips, and although it would probably be smarter for me to just not buy the chips (and if you’re able to not have any trigger foods in the house at all, that is powerful), I do something a little silly. I put the bag of chips beside my exercise bike, downstairs.

trigger food: showing environmental changes.

Whenever I have a craving, I have to go downstairs, stare at my exercise bike a bit, and then make an active decision to eat the chips, downstairs, beside my bike. Most of the time, my laziness is greater than my craving, so I don’t even bother going downstairs. Small environmental change, completely different outcome.

Practice Mindful Eating

My environmental adjustment also enables another tool that helps us not overeat, and this may be the best tool of all. Some of the time, the craving is too much and I go downstairs, but staring at my bike makes me second guess my choice.

Instead of using my lizard brain that wants to eat everything because it fears that a famine is just around the corner, looking at my bike gives me that little break that allows my rational brain to kick in and say “Hey, Andrew, is this choice aligned with your goals?”

Some of the time I eat the chips, and it’s worth it, but I do eat fewer chips because I’m now mindful of my goals. And that’s okay! You can’t make choices that support your weight loss 100.0% of the time. But if you make them most of the time, that’s a pathway to success.

The Luuze app integrates this concept, allowing you to set mindful eating reminders that pop up on your phone before mealtimes, giving you that little angel on that shoulder that suggests that you think about your decision, supporting you with more mindful eating.

Summary

Be aware of your trigger foods, plan ahead, find a way to have less of it around, and practice conscious eating instead of unconscious eating.

If you have any questions on weight loss, don’t hesitate to send me an email at [email protected]! Your question could be featured on a future Mailbox Monday.

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